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and sometimes I have no answers

and sometimes I have no answers

May 18, 2007

My daughter has recently decided to run away from me in stores, or hide behind racks of clothing only to emerge when my voice gets loud and panic has set in. Since she is only four years old she thinks she is completely in control of the situation.

So over the past few weeks I have been telling her that if she hides like that someone else might see her, decide that she is cute, and take her home with them to keep for her very own. She has had numerous explanations of what she would do if someone tried to take her. Most of them firmly delusional, unless she does actually develop super powers that enable her to fly or scale buildings.

I have gently explained that an adult could pick her up and run away. Or at least I thought I was being gentle. But maybe I have become so used to all the bad things that happen in this world that my idea of gentle isn’t really gentle at all. Having an adult grab you and run away with you is gentle compared to what actually happens to many kidnapped children, but she doesn’t know that.

For the past week she has been up every night, coming into our bed. She rarely wakes in the middle of the night and does this anymore. At this point she is far more likely to get up very early in the morning and come into our bed.

Last night at bedtime she was very upset. Finally she said through her tears that she didn’t like having the window open in her bedroom. She was afraid someone was going to come in her room at night and steal her. Every one of the reasons I gave her for why this wouldn’t happen were met with explanations from her as to why it could. And all of them were possible. In theory, someone really could get a ladder and push it under her window and climb into her room. It could happen I suppose. It has happened to other people before.

And so I gathered her up from her bed and settled her into my bed, where she felt safe.

And as I left the room and saw her so tiny laying in the middle of this immense bed, my heart broke a little. Knowing that something as simple as my “big bed” will not be able to keep her safe forever.

Edited to add a clarification:

I do not believe in scaring children. I don’t think that telling my children someone might take them home is damaging. My daughter wanted to know why she can’t hide from me. “Why would you get scared, Mommy? I am right here!”

This post was really more about me and my fears, than about her. She thought up the ladder thing by herself. She knows nothing about any of the kidnap cases, even the one that is currently being talked about. I think her fears are probably appropriate for her age.

Posted by Chris @ 9:51 am  

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Comments

  1. Carie says:

    I totally understand where you are coming from here. It’s a big scary world out there, full of creeps, and I worry every day how to keep my kids safe from them.

  2. Mrs. Dub says:

    Seriously, who let this world get so freaky? I blame PBS. Oh wait, I like PBS. I think I was thinking of the devil instead.

    But all jesting aside, it’s sad to realize that no amount of protection can make us totally safe. And that robs moms and kids of innocence, I think.

    Such a shame.

  3. Holli Smith says:

    It totally sucks when in the name of safety we have to rob our babies of a little innocence. I hated breaking news that the world was not happy and wondeful and safe.

  4. Susan says:

    I HIGHLY recommend the book “Protecting the Gift” by Gavin De Becker. It really outlines how to keep children safe at different ages, what to say to them at each stage of development and how to tell the real dangers from the media-driven ones.

    For every terrible “creep” out in the big scary world, children are way more likely to be harmed by a family member or a person known to them.

  5. Susan says:

    We have the same dilemma here, with Henry, who fails to understand that hiding from me in public places is dangerous but that our house is safe (and I do believe my house is safe, really). He will take off in the grocery without a bit of remorse or fear but get up a dozen times at night to make sure all the doors are locked.

    I don’t know how to walk that line between wanting him to be able to protect himself and not wanting him to worry. Let me know when you figure that out, would you?

  6. Katie says:

    That is so sad! My 5 year old has the same grandiose ideas of how he could protect himself (punching mostly) if someone were to kidnap him.* I really wish we all lived in a safer world.

    * Course I think if any one were to take him, they’d be begging me to take him back after about 5 minutes. He’s a handful.

  7. Jenn says:

    I promised not to do any lurking today. Your blog has become one of my favorite reads and I check in every day. The lollypop post has my sister and I both be having! Good stuff!

  8. Beth says:

    I’ve heard really great things about the DVD, “The Safe Side,” with John Walsh and Angela Shelton, and am planning to view it myself, then view it with my son (surely more than once). Shelton, a child abuse survivor, made a very powerful documentary in which she contacted women all over the country with her same name, interviewed them, and eventually confronted her own father. She’s since devoted much of her time to fighting child abuse.

  9. Fold My Laundry Please says:

    Both of my boys (5 and 3 years old) have started hiding in clothing racks at the stores lately and my heart stops every time I turn around and realize that one or both of them are no longer standing there beside me. I can sympathize with them, though. I remember doing this when I was little and sitting there inside that circle of clothes and feeling like I had found some sort of secret spot that no one else knew about.

  10. Ella says:

    My five year old has seen the news about the missing (UK) girl Madeleine McCann. I have been honest and, I hope, gentle but I have no real idea how best to reassure him how rare it is to be taken by a stranger but a danger nonetheless. He simply says to me ‘but what about Madeleine?’ and I have no good answer.

  11. Merry says:

    My children are currently very concerned about this, because of Madeleine McCann. We have a Maddy and Amelie (her sister) here of our very own, which makes it all the more poignant and close to home. It is heartbreaking for all and very difficult to get it into perspective for them, because for a child, at the centre of their own universe, everything important does happen to them.

    I think honesty, genuine sadness and a reinteration of the likelihoods and scenarios are the only way forward really, warning them to be careful, but not fearful. WEhat else can we do? It could happen, but it probably won’t.

  12. Caren says:

    Chris,
    I know. Boy do I know. I have had the same talk with my 5 yr old son. We have talked about what he should do if something like that were to ever happen and as many different scenarios as I can think of. Now when we go anywhere he will not leave my side. He has his hand in mine or he hold onto my pocket if my hands are full, at all times (by his own choice). I know that I have scared him, but I simply cannot live with the possibility of the alternative. So he may be terrified of strangers, but with his hand in mine, I know he is safe. For now.

  13. Mama Bear says:

    The desire to protect them never changes; someday they will understand. Last night Miss 13 (my middle daughter) came to me scared and crying. Her name is on a list of students at the middle school that a group wants to “knife.” Scary to think about, isn’t it? We’ve done the right thing and contacted principals, counselors, etc. Miss 13 didn’t want her name involved, but we reasoned with her that it needed to be in order to protect her safety. The biggest challenge was sending her out the door this morning, to school, alone.

  14. Holly Smith says:

    Mmmm…very sweetly written, Chris.

    One thing I do with our 3 almost 4 year old son is tell him if he runs away, he’ll be in the cart…don’t know if that would help you.

    I’m glad to have little ones, aren’t you? They often change my perspective!

  15. amy says:

    I know how you feel, but I personally want to urge all parents everywhere NOT to overworry about extreme situations that PROBABLY will never happen. We drive our children in our cars daily without fear, but statistically we are far far more likely to kill our own kids in our own cars than for anyone to ever kidnap them even if they do annoying things like run away from us in stores. MOST people are good. Please do not frighten your kids with stories about bad people taking them. That is far more scarring for their psyches than is necessary. Of course some common sense explanations are fine regarding staying close to you etc. while shopping or playing outside, but I would not overdo it. We need to remind ourselves to be logical (it helps to do this) — I worry that we are raising a generation of children who are far more fearful than is at all necessary, and this fear is extremely damaging in the long run. OK I will stop now!

  16. Tina says:

    So we can’t put our kids in bubbles? I SO thought that could work.

  17. JanB says:

    Thanks to your commenter Beth for the tip about The Safe Side, I just put it on my queue at Net Flix.

  18. Carola says:

    mmm…I lost my 15m old for about 1min while shopping on a store…she went on her own to play with some toys, but honestly my heart stopped. I can’t tell you the number of horrible things that crossed my mine while I was looking for her. I learned my lesson, never let go of her hand (sound obvious, right?)

  19. Keri says:

    Good post. Sometimes I find myself thinkng very irrational thoughts about fears I have for my girls. For example, in our old house, I wouldnt let my daughter sleep w/her window open b/c I was afraid someone would climb onto our roof of our bfast “nook” & sneak into her room & take her w/o me knowing. I think its my own fear of the unknown & the crazies out there who actually prey on little ones. I hope your daughter’s fears at night don’t linger.

  20. judi casey says:

    i agree with amy.
    the likelihood of anything bad happening at the mall is infintessimal compared to the risk you take everytime you cross the street or get into the car. making children fearful of the world is, in my opinion, not worth it. i think protecting them from the tv and newspaper, which reports and exploits any and all problems, playing on our fears, is the best think we can do for our kids. they should grow up to believe that the world is an inherently good place and that people are inherently good. they have plenty of time to learn about the wrongdoings in the world when they get older.
    I think the statistic is something like over 97% of all abductions,physical and sexual abuses are committed by a family member or someone the child knows well. so maybe we should tell them to stay away from family?!?

  21. trailin' says:

    As much as I realize it’s bad for your child to feel that unsafe… I would feel really comforted knowing that she understands things like that so young.

    The world is a sick place.

  22. Jen says:

    Put me in the don’t scare them too much category. Because if you’re scaring them about stranger abduction, there are so *many* other more likely things to warn them about — enough that no one in the family would ever sleep!

    My son was younger and I was pregnant/with a stroller when he tried the hiding trick. After a couple of those, bad mommy yanked out a harness. He had to wear it while in stores like that. I believe I only did it once…and he stopped with the hiding.

    My second son *was* lost for about…30 minutes?! It’s a long story with at least one grown-up (crossing guard) not coming off very well in it. The long and short of the story, which ended fine was that if my extremely shy, never talk to strangers kid hadn’t asked a nice looking young man, with a tie on and a clipboard to help him, he’d have been lost for a lot longer. The man walked him home (he’d been talking and missed the stop, got off the next one but it was on the other side of a block that he knew, so he didn’t know how to get home).

    Our main safety thing is to point out what the people that work somewhere (amusement park, large store, the people behind the counter) look like and that if you are lost, you report yourself right to them.

  23. peepnroosmom says:

    I’m with Tina. I wish I could put my boys in a bubble, too.

  24. Mrs. Schmitty says:

    Isn’t it sad that we have to take away all of their innocence because of the scary world we live in. I love that W. is so caring and friendly and affectionate but it scares the heck out of me.

  25. Nicki says:

    I remember when that’s all it took to make you feel safe!!! I wish we could have that one all our lives!!!

  26. Heather says:

    My son (7) decided the other day to hide from us in our neighbor’s front yard. And he decided not to come when we were calling for him. He thought it was hilarious, but I have never seen his father so scared. We were looking for him for about 10 minutes.

    In retrospect, I would have handled it a little differently. But I told him that I was afraid someone had come by in a car, pulled him into the car and we would never see him again. He burst into tears. I feel bad we scared him, but he needs to understand why we have all these rules.

    The Safe Side is a great video. I try to have my son watch it every six months or so.

  27. Caren says:

    I do not think that my son will be scarred because I have told him what could happen to him. I know that when he gets older he will understand better, but I need to arm him with knowledge. If he doesn’t know what could happen, he might be more inclined to run off. I’m not taking any chances. I will not be one of those mothers who says, “I never thought it would happen to me.”

  28. Wyliekat says:

    I have a little girl, too. I’m often choked up about how fragile her innocence is, and how much in the big scary world is out there that can harm her, take away this state of happiness, make her untrusting.

    Not the least of these things is me. I’m trying to be cognizant of treading the line between realistic and scary. It’s hard. And she’s not even two yet.

    How not to pass my fears onto her, while still preparing her for the world.

    I sometimes can’t sleep at night with this thought.

  29. Deb says:

    What I have done with my girls, 6 and 7, is that I’ve talked about what ever happens if they get *lost* somewhere or separated from me. If it’s in a store, they know NEVER to leave the store or mall. If it’s at the zoo or at an outdoor venue, they NEVER leave the place. They know that I will not leave, either.

    Instead of having them look for someone “official” looking if they get separated from me (because, as we all know, it’s easy for an evildoer to pose as an official-looking person), I have told them first to look for a mom with children and ask for help, because as we know, that mom will typically make it her Life’s Purpose to reunite them with me. If they can’t find a mom with children, they should next look for a lady and tell them that they don’t know where their mom is, and can she please help.

    In all of these cases, I have emphasized the *fact* of their separation from me without detailing any of the evil ways this could happen. The odds of this happening are so small that living with the fear of it (and my 7-year-old would OBSESS about it, believe me) would color their lives unnecessarily. They will be able to deal with all of the world’s awfulness when they’re older. But I believe firmly that children need to feel stable and secure before starting to move outward independently, and scaring them unnecessarily, too young, will disrupt this.

  30. Renae says:

    I definately reccomend the Safe Side Video. It has helped me with my boys and they stay in the safety “zone” as a result. We should as mentioned as above revisit the video for refresher lessons every 6 months. You can never be too cautious in this scary world we live in today.

  31. Brigitte says:

    I obsess enough about this for our whole family, I don’t think I’ll let my daughter let go of my hand until she gets married . .

  32. Anna says:

    Deb, I *love* the idea of directing a missing child to find a mom with children. It makes the situation so much less scary from their eyes. Just wanted to say :)

  33. Danielle says:

    This is why I don’t go out with the kids. I mean I let them go out, both of the 2 year olds and the five year old, but I don’t go out with them. I feel so much better when they get candy from strangers when I’m not around. I mean, Gosh, that stuff has sugar. This is why the playground has a fence. It keeps the bad guys out and the good guys in.

  34. creative-type dad says:

    That’s why I keep my daughter in a bubble.

    I wish.

    I think the media scares us parents into becoming over-paranoid about our surroundings. Yes, there are scary-crazy people out there, but we can’t keep a 24-hour eye on them and have them grow up to be scared of the world.
    I’ve known one too many fellow-parent friends that have done this to their kids, and they’re growing up to be very frightened adults.

  35. Maddy says:

    Let’s all prey that Madeleine comes home safe and sound very very soon.

  36. Christine says:

    That is totally normal for that age. The first time we practiced a fire safety plan and discussed what to do if you could not leave your room, our daughter had major freak-out for a few weeks. Granted, she is now diagnosed with Tourettes and OCD, but still …

    We play “The Stranger Game” a lot when we’re out. “Who is a stranger?” It has helped the kids realize that strangers can look like anyone! Occasionally they have nighttime fears after we’ve had a refresher discussion. It happens.

    We also talk openly about what to do if someone tries to remove them or convince them to leave an area. We like to call that the “When It’s Perfectly Okay To Hurt Someone Really Bad And Scream At The Top Of Our Lungs” Game.

  37. liz says:

    Hugs to you and her.

  38. Lucinda says:

    My daughter started doing that around 4 as well with all sorts of grandiose ideas about how she would get away from the bad guys.

    I understand that the chances of bad things happening like car accidents are greater. But I believe the legacy of abuse is far more damaging. So we tell our children to be careful of strangers who could hurt them. Then gradually we warn them about those they may know who want to hurt them. Because as they move farther away from us, their chance of these encounters increases.

    It sucks to let them know that this world has some dark spots in it. It’s scary for them and for us to talk about it too. But I truly believe you must keep those lines of communication open so that they know it’s ok to talk about the scary stuff just like you can talk about the good stuff. I want to know that my kids will come to me when something bad has happened because they trust me not to overreact and to be there even if I can’t make it all better.

    Maybe it’s because I grew up in a place where that didn’t/couldn’t happen. But to write it off and not talk about it because statistically it isn’t as great is like ignoring the boogie man because he doesn’t exist. He is still scary, and he needs to be acknowledged. Just my humble opinion as I muddle through this parenthood thing.

    ((HUGS)) that you had this milestone.

  39. Heather says:

    Chris,

    I think you did the right thing telling her about someone possibly grabbing her, ect. Because it COULD happen. I get tired of hearing about ” we drive everyday” blah, blah, blah. Yes, that is true. However who is to say when the next kidnapping is going to happen? Who is to say it couldnt be your child? You never know and with that in mind, my children do know. The world is a scary place.

  40. fidget says:

    we are going through a similar issue with running and hiding in the racks at stores. Tessa, though, thinks i am nuts when I say that something could happen if I dont see her. Today she rolled her eyes at me when I ordered her to stop oozing out of her booster seat while the vehicle is in motion.

  41. Mary W says:

    UGH my eight year old was that friendly type kid He’s so innocent minded that some one COULD come up and ask him to help him find a dog and he’d do it.

    We had a scare two years ago, a guy dressed as santa drove around our neighborhood and tried to lure a little girl down the street into his van - she screamed ad ran but still - my kid would have bought the I’m just handing out candy scenario.

  42. Amah says:

    I truly hate the idea of having to take children’s innocence away from them. Safety is sooo important. I have a missing child. He has been missing for almost 21 years. I truly wish I’d have done something different (I’m not sure what and hindsight isn’t 20/20).

    Since I’ve had this terrible event actually happen to me -(http://seaami.blogspot.com/2007/05/missing-and-exploited-children.html) I know the torment the family goes thru and I ache for every one that I hear about.

    I now do some foster care and I found the neatest little backpacks at Wally World that look like Monkeys,Doggies etc and the tail has a handle that can be clipped at the back or side - and they have the length of the “tail” for freedom. Since I deal a lot with ADHD and unparented children, and sometimes several 2 or 3 yr olds at a time - these little “safetys” (as the kids call them) are a lifesaver. We just deal with - it helps me to be able to know that they are at the other end of it.

    All you can do is to do your best and God will take care of the rest of it.

  43. Annalise says:

    This has been on my mind too, with the awful worry of Madeleine McCann hanging over all of us here in the UK (and the world…) I took pretty much the same line with my kids when they were small that you did, Chris. And, like you, I try not to get neurotic; after all, statistically speaking, the chances of an abduction by a stranger are miniscule. One shouldn’t live one’s life being afraid of things that may never happen; it’s such a waste of energy. But all the same, I worry … maternal nature I guess, we are programmed to do it…

  44. carrien says:

    My default explanation somehow evolved into this. “If I can’t see you, I can’t keep you safe, and it’s my job to keep you safe. The rules we have are to keep you safe, if you don’t follow the rules you put yourself in danger and make it so that I can’t do my job and protect you from bad things.” As they get older the bad things are more specific. It’s hard though to decide what they need to know, especially when I just want them to stay innocent and trusting forever.

    (And we live in CA where little kids are molested and murdered in public bathrooms while a parent waits just outside the door.)

  45. poppy fields says:

    I wish we didn’t have to worry about this. My faith is shaken when bad things happen to innocent children.

  46. Amanda says:

    To me it seems such a tragedy that we have to worry so much for the safety of our children. I remember my mum telling me of “the good old days” when you could go to the shops without even having to lock your front door. We do all we can to protect our little angels, and hope beyond all that they have no need to shed their innocence before time. If only we didn’t have to worry so much!

  47. Chris says:

    Amah,

    I am so sorry. I truly hope that one day you get some answers about your son. Absolutely heartbreaking. (((hugs)))

  48. rachel says:

    Sometimes explaining why you are afraid is the only way to make an impression. My kids have had similar fears at that age - 3 1/2 to 5 seems like a major fear-time.

    Although occasionally they tell me “I want to go with another family, Mom!” oh, the sweet little darlings. :P

  49. meritt says:

    I hate when you feel the need to add ‘clarification’ to the end of your posts. It usually means that someone (probably without children and really fancy degree behind their name) as called you to the carpet on it.

    In our family I was more blunt. “A bad guy will come and steal you” was the “don’t run away from me in the store” explanation. :P

  50. Jen says:

    Here’s an alternative thing to scare her with while shopping…I’m the oldest of 5 and when we were all little, at least two of us would escape my mother’s reach. We’d always hide in the clothing racks until one day a whole rack at K-Mart just fell over with us inside. I was old enough to know what embarrassed felt like, so I stopped hiding after that. I took the brothers at least two more tip overs and a broken arm to deciding hiding wasn’t for them.

    We also nearly had to close down the Corn Palace in Mitchell, SD to find one of the brothers who’d been hiding for hours. I don’t know how you could use that as a fear tactic. Being in the Corn Palace is pretty freaky anyway, but I don’t think that applies to you.

  51. Jennifer says:

    I’ve told my 4yo that she should always stay with me because if she doesn’t someone might steal her and make her wash their windows and scrub their floors. Serioulsy, what else am I supposed to say? I have, however, told her that if she ever does get separated from me in a store to stay where she is but if she sees a mommy with little kis she can go up to that person and ask for help. She knows our names, address and our home/cell numbers so I think she is well covered. I also have told her specifically to never go with someone in a uniform because, well, have you ever taken a good look at mall security? *I* wouldn’t want to go anywhere with them so I sure as hell am not going to let my child go with them.

  52. Jeanne says:

    Chris,

    Where’s the handbook when you need it?
    As my children and I grow older, I realize we write our own. When you look back at this chapter, I don’t believe you’ll want to change anything. That’s the best any parent can hope for.

  53. Crissy says:

    I have lost my second child twice - and the first was at a baseball game. With about 10,000 people in attendance. As parents, I think we need to realize that WE have a responsibility to report our child “missing” as soon as possible. As soon as we reported her lost, they LOCKED DOWN the stadium and put out an “APB” to all stadium employees. That way, no one could leave the stadium until the child was located. The same thing happened to us at JC Penney’s the other day. Although it’s embarassing to admit that you’ve “lost” your child, a store employee immediately mans the doors so that no one but you can leave with your child. As soon as you realize you are separated from your child, report it to a store employee … THEN begin your search.

    Chris, I feel your pain. I don’t want my children to live in fear, either.

  54. Jen says:

    I have children with grandios plans for escaping too. I think parents have to decide for themselves how much scarey information is needed to get the point across. Each child is different and some kids need a little more fear than others IMO.

  55. FENICLE says:

    I believe you are fully justified in fearing losing her. It happens. Even if they aren’t “kidnapped” - kids get lost all the time. And it would probably be more dangerous to think what she might get into or do when she did take off, rather than who might have her. But you can never be too careful!!

  56. elizabeth says:

    Wonderful post, as usual - Chris!
    It is a scary place, but at the same time spectacular - because of our kids, so of course we’re going to worry, and be protective bears.

    I really don’t get the craze about Madeleine McCann, - I so hope they find her and she goes home safely. But children are missing in the U.S. - ALL the time, and why is not there such a fuss made for EVERY one of them? (this is not directed at you - just a rant)

    HUGS!

  57. Qalballah says:

    It’s just a shame we have to reveal the ugly side of life to our children from younger and younger ages. I had to explain the same thing to my elder son, and that even though he thinks he is strongest alpha male on the planet he is quite the same dimensions as a plank of wood and some one could quite easily pick him up and walk away.

    His question was: but WHY would they take me. And for that I really had no answer that I wanted to give…

  58. kellie says:

    I am one of those who chose to put the fear of god into them on this subject.
    I have flat out told them IF someone were to take you it would not be to the toy store.
    I have also told them if we are seperated stay put, I will not leave without you.
    Look for a Mom ~ let her know you are lost.
    As i am not all that impressed with some of the renta cops at the mall and other places.

    I wish there was a bubble big enough…

    more than that i wish my children were able to enjoy their childhoods like we did, out the door at sunrise and home to mom yelling off the porch at sunset…it is one of the things I miss the most for my children.
    The world is not the same place it was 30 *something years ago…

  59. jen lemen says:

    madeleine was like this really, really bad at age four. i don’t believe in scaring kids either, but the only thing that worked was telling her the exact same thing the summer of a particularly bad kidnapping case. she went through a phase of paranoia, but it passed. i had mixed feelings, too, wondering if i had compromised her sense of safety or innocence, but in the end i was just relieved to no longer be arguing with her about how everything worked out just fine because she found this nice grownup who helped her find me when she got lost (weekly) in stores. (aaarghh!)

  60. Rose says:

    I have a four year old daughter who also likes to hide in stores and it scares the heck out of me! I have also explained to her why this is not a good idea. The sad fact is that this could happen, I don’t really care about the “odds” because we all know it does happen to people. When I typed our home address in watchdog and a million red dots popped up all within a five mile radius, it is very scary— there are people like that everywhere and it only takes a second for it to happen. I think it’s sad that we do have to have these talks with our children but it is for their safety. My four year old knows her full name, our full names, our address, and what to do if she is ever lost. (we are working on the phone #)

  61. Susanne says:

    I don’t like scaring my kids either, but I think there is such a thing as healthy fear. I had to tell my daughter that something bad might happen (a stranger could take her home) before she would take me seriously. Just spare them the gory details and don’t let them watch the news. Have you ever asked your kids what they would do if a stranger drove up and offered them candy? Scary. My daughter’s eyes lit up like I was talking about Santa. Bless her heart. I’ll have to check out that DVD that someone mentioned.

    I bought a couple of the backpacks/harnesses that Amah referred to when I traveled alone with my two kiddos last month. They’re great because the kids love them (my daughter is 4, and she loved it that she could put things inside it like a purse). I found them at The Right Start:
    http://www.rightstart.com/global/store/product~item~5755.html
    Amah, I’m so sorry for the pain you’ve endured. My prayers are with you.

  62. Alice H says:

    The only thing I found to work was to tell Boo that if he hid, we were leaving wherever we were immediately - no treats, no more fun, no playing in the mall playground or sandbox, we were leaving and when we got home he was going to bed. Since a trip to the mall usually involves playing at the mall playground for a while, and getting a vanilla steamer for the ride home, he took this pretty seriously. He used to hide between the stand-up mirrors at Old Navy - bet that’s someplace you hadn’t thought of looking! He started hiding every chance he got when he was three, which I felt was too young an age to talk about someone taking him.

    We’ve only recently started the talks about how someone might take him (Boo’s 4.75 now), and to find a mom if he gets lost. We had to work a while on the ‘don’t talk to strangers’ rule, because he would walk up to people and say, “I can’t talk to you because you’re a stranger. My name’s Boo, what’s yours? Would you like to come to my birthday party? It’s going to be Lightning McQueen, and…”

  63. Becky says:

    I don’t think telling them that someone could steal them is helpful at all. I second the recommendation for Protecting the Gift. I tell my children: “You need to stay right next to me in public so I can keep you safe.” I don’t tell them what might happen if they are away from me, but make it clear that they need to be near me to be safe.

  64. Jen says:

    Oy to all the don’t go to anyone in uniforms! We were just at a firehouse visit and that’s actually one of the things they stress — *going* to the person in the fireman’s outfit. They say that kids’ instinct is to hide and seeing a fireman at a window is even more likely to make them hide.

    It’s possible to incapacitate your child with fears — the point as people have mentioned above — is to give them the skills you can to help them out. It’s not 100%, nothing is.

    Here’s all the things we do:
    1) point out truly official people (ie, at the local amusement park we point out where the people running the rides are and what they wear.)
    2) tell them to look for a mom with kids, woman without next
    3) tell them that *any adult approaching them* when there isn’t an adult right there — there’s a big difference between the adults a kid goes up to asking for help and the adult who initiates a conversation with a kid — should make them step back, run in the house, find us, and to scream bloody murder if the person keeps coming. We talk about candy, puppies, giving help. We merely say that there are a few bad people that might take a kid — but we say this when we think it’s age appropriate. A kid running away and hiding on purpose that’s 4? Age appropriate. Doesn’t need a lot of description though.

    Now, obviously, my 4 yo I keep in sight, but they do get older. You can’t keep all your kids in sight until they are 18. I promise this!

  65. Janet says:

    I agree with having them talk to a mom with kids, a woman, store employee. My daughter was four when she asked me if there there “bad policeman” I said that if anyone gave you a bad feeling you where not to talk to them and to find someone else to help her if she needed it. I once worked in a store at christmas and we where handing out candy canes to the kids. I asked one girl of about eight if she want one, (she was standing right beside her mother) and she said she was not allowed to talk to strangers. Made me sad because I thought she had no one to ask for help if she got seperated from a parent because everyone was scary to her. I think there is a line and it is differant for each kid.